December 22, 2016
The Obama administration is facing renewed criticism that it is avoiding confronting Iran over a widening list of the Islamic Republic’s sanctions violations and military activities, after State Department officials would not commit to taking punitive action against a top Iranian military official who was photographed touring Aleppo in violation of an international travel ban.
The visit from Qasem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s secretive Quds Force, occurred in the aftermath of a military campaign which left the Syrian city facing a deepening humanitarian crisis and generatedaccusations that Iran-backed militias fighting alongside the regime likely committed war crimes.
After the battle ebbed, photos began to circulate of Soleimani visiting the city. The United Nations Security Council resolution that affirmed the nuclear deal placed Soleimani under a travel ban, but he has repeatedly been spotted in Russia and overseas with Shiite militias.
The State Department said on Monday that Soleimani had violated the travel ban but would not pledge to take action against Iran in response, saying instead that the United States would consult with other U.N. members on the issue.
“We do intend to consult with our partners on the Security Council about how to address our concerns with this,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters. “We’ve long said that Iran needs to choose whether it’s going to play a positive role in helping peacefully resolve conflicts such as in Syria or whether it will choose to prolong them.”
Experts told THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the administration is not willing to take significant action to punish the violation.
“The White House may very well want to try to go for something at the Security Council, but I’m sure they’re not expecting anything to materialize,” said Matthew McInnis, a veteran Defense Department official. “They know that the Russians are not going to back them on this, so it’s purely a diplomatic exercise.”
“They’re not going to consider any type of new, U.S. unilateral, punitive actions for Soleimani showing up, for example. They’re quite safe in going to the U.N. Security Council,” he added. “We’re too afraid of losing the nuclear deal to push back against the actions of Soleimani and his subordinate proxies and terrorist groups.”